Saturday, October 1, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Warhead"

There have been a number of past VOY episodes that have had a more TOS feel to them than anything in TNG, DS9, or ENT. “Warhead” is yet another example, right down to some lamer than usual special effects. In fact, the episode has budget saver written all over it. The obvious penny pinching is not the worst of it, however. There is a profound like of tension that even allowing Robert Picardo to take center stage playing the mad villain cannot save.

Right off the bat, we get a sense ‘Warhead” is going to be a harry-centric episode. He has been one for two this season, so this will be the test as to whether he has a winning season. Sorry for too many baseball analogies. The playoffs start tonight. The Atlanta Braves blew their chance at the wild card in the thirteen inning of their final game. After being up 8 and a half games at the beginning of September, no less. The diversion towards the Braves commentary is apt, because try as it might, “Warhead” still puts its focus on the Doctor rather than Hard Luck Harry.

Harry has the night shift on the bridge when an automated distress call is received. You would think after five years Harry would not be so green under the circumstances, but he decides to alter course to answer the distress call and leads an away mission to the planet’s surface with the exuberance of a six year old who has been told he can stay up past his bedtime to watch television. All that does is tell you something really bad is going to happen.

The away mission is the at which “Warhead” turns into a TOS episode. The planet looks like a soundstage with a red sky and paper mache rocks. Visual the style of TNG’s first season’s planets and you have it. Thirteen years after TNG season one and they cannot CGI something more convincing? Reuse that dark cave set that has been in every modern Star Trek series. The away team finds the distress signal eminating from an artificial intelligence that has been serverely damaged. It can only communicate with the Doctor, who urges Harry to take it back to the ship for repairs because he empathizes. Harry complies, but the machine turns out to be a smart bomb who realizes its mission once its is repaired, takes the ship hostage, and demands it be allowed to complete its mission.

To save some cash and give Picardo another episode, the bomb takes over the Doctor in order to communicate with Harry and Torres, whom he has taken hostage. Picardo does the best he can with the material, but the bomb speaking through him starts out so hostile and determined to complete his mission that the inevitable eleventh hour change of heart is unconvincing. It is funny to watch Harry, who is eaten up with guilt for bringing the bomb aboard even though the Doctor talked him into it, attempting to convince the bomb to rise above its program and not complete the mission to blow up a military installation. I find it humorous because it harkens back to Kirk’s inexplicable skill at talking a computer to death. Needless to say, Harry fails miserably.

This being late seasons VOY, the only proactive effort to deactivate the bomb involves sneaking Seven into sickbay under a ruse she needs serious medical care, and using her Borg nanotech--the miracle cure for everything--disable its program. The effort fails, and Seven suffers a near fatal brain injury. Consider this another huge flaw in the episode. Her injury, though extremely severe, is dismissed as not a vital part of the drama and since the doctor is possessed, it is Neelix (!) who performs brain surgery to save her life. Is there any rationale for Neelix to play surgeon that does not make your head explode?

Speaking of explosions, the bomb is finally convinced to allow his full program to be repaired so it can double check its orders. Surprise--it and the other 32 bombs that have just shown up near Voyager were launched by accident after a peace agreement was reached. The Doctor Bomb thinks it is a trick perpetrated by its devious enemy, then for no reason other than it is the fifth act, changes its mind. The other bombs will not listen to reason, so the Doctor bomb transfers it self back into the actual bomb and sacrifices itself in order to destroy the others. This is modern television. They cannot just deactivate. The artificial intelligence has to do something noble.

If there is any element sperating “Warhead” from a TOS installment, it is that three extras, including one on the away mission, approach the bomb and live to tell the tale. At least they would if they were not extras. Screen Actors Guild rules dictate they would have to be paid more if they had speaking roles. Pinch those pennies, Paramount.!

I have poked fun at the minor issues with ’Warhead,” but the biggest is the lack of tension. The screws are never really tightened because the story elements do not make for any real drama. The bomb has been stranded on the planet for three years, so what is the big rush to hit its target now? Even worse, the three year timeframe already puts it in the audience’s minds the war is over. Not that it matters, since we do not know the target anyway. They might be a bunch of Space Nazis who deserve to be blown up for all we know. Harryu’s attempts to throw everything at the wall--the war might be over, the enemy is a litter of doe eyed, furry kittens, evolve past your program--all fail immediately and are therefore uncoupling drama. There is even a sequence in which neelix contacts a trader who might be able to disarm the bomb. The conversation lasts half an act before the Doc Bomb destroys the trader’s ship. Why? We already know the Doc Bomb is determined to let nothing stand in its way. Killing the trader does not add anything to the story other than killing a few minutes because the episode ran short. Where the heck were those 32 other bombs hiding for three years? Why do not they know they have been recalled? Who launches 32 WMD after a peace treaty is signed and does not go looking for them to make sure they have not attacked anyone?


I will give “Warhead” some credit. A fan of Tos might like the homage. Picardo fans might enjoy watching him ham it up as a villain, but I am a Picardo fan and I did not. There is some effort to mature Harry, but I think it falls flat because he does not really do anything to save the day, yet we are supposed to think he is the hero. Virtually everything that happens feels scripted rather than growing out of the script. “Warhead” barely keeps itself out of the cellar, but I could very easily award it one star on another day.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

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